Dave Gibbons Talks Watchmen

The legendary graphic artist reflects on his experience with Zack Snyder's film -- which he loves -- and why co-creator Alan Moore doesn't want to talk about it

Dave Gibbons

Too reverential to the source material? Not reverential enough? What happened to the squid, anyway? Zack Snyder's long-awaited adaptation of Watchmen divided both critics and fan-boys upon its theatrical release, while its US domestic gross -- $107.5 million -- was certainly less than the studio might have expected from the director of the enormously successful 300. But with the film now available on DVD and Blu-ray -- and in Snyder's extended director's cut, which integrates footage from The Black Freighter -- Watchmen is set to take on a new life, perhaps even bound for the cult status its source material suggested. And one man who's more than pleased with the film is none other than the graphic novel's creator Dave Gibbons, the artist whose vivid imagery gave life to Alan Moore's revolutionary text. We caught up with him recently to ask him about the director's cut, his reflections on the film, and what Moore really thinks.



Looking back on Watchmen, what are your thoughts -- do you think it succeeded as a film?

Well, I'm basically thrilled with the movie, you know; it's been in the making for years. There have been proposals to make it -- some I was excited about, some I was less excited about. But I think the way that it finally has been made is just great. I honestly can't imagine it being made much better. I couldn't say it's perfect, but then the graphic novel it was based on wasn't perfect. I can't imagine it being a more faithful adaptation: it's got all the detail, all the visual richness, all the emotional richness of the original; the same ambiguity. I do think that on DVD it's going to be an even better experience, because one of the strengths of the graphic novel is that you can stop, refer back, and carry on reading. I think you're going to be able to do that with the DVD as well. On the Blu-ray version you're going to be able to actually look at frames from the graphic novel as you watch the movie -- and I've heard reports of people sitting in movie theatres with the graphic novel open on their knees, so they can do that very thing. Yeah, no -- I'm thrilled with it.

Why do you think the film performed not as well as the studio perhaps expected?

It's very strange, you see, because I think the kind of problem we had with Watchmen, if there was a problem, was that it came hot on the heels of The Dark Knight -- which did incredible business. I don't think it's that Watchmen has done badly, I think it's being compared to a movie that did phenomenally, surprisingly well. I think it took everybody by surprise exactly how well Batman did. I really don't have a perception of Watchmen doing badly and I think, you know, it has been said about Watchmen that it was unfilmable. Actually, one of the producers put it better when he said that it was "unfinanceable". I think the fact that it's a long movie, that it's an R-rated and an adult movie, the fact that there are no big box-office stars in it -- although there are some wonderful actors -- I think all of those things might have mitted against its box-office success. But I think, all things taken into account, that it's done very well. I have every confidence that on DVD and Blu-ray it'll perform well up to expectations.

There's been a lot of talk about Zack Snyder's director's cut. Will we see The Black Freighter integrated into the film?

I've seen a director's cut, a rough cut of that, because they got me to sit in a recording booth in Los Angeles and do a commentary on it -- so I've seen the whole thing with The Black Freighter stuff cut into it. It's really interesting; it becomes a different movie again, because one of the recurrent locales in the graphic novel was the newsstand on the corner, with the vendor and the kid who's reading the comic, and they were very much our -- literally -- 'man in the street' characters, and they're virtually absent from the theatrical release. But this reinstates them and gives us their view, their commentary on what's happening. And also, of course, there's the wonderful allegorical richness of The Black Freighter stuff. It becomes an even longer movie -- it's almost three-and-a-half hours long.

That's what the fans want.

Oh, I think the fans want that and I think that's as close to a definitive Watchmen adaptation that you're ever gonna get. That stands at three-and-a-half hours, but if you want the almost word-for-word, line-for-line, picture-for-picture version, you can get the "motion comic", which is an animation of the graphic novel. With adaptations, I suppose there are some fans who will settle for nothing less than every word and every image -- but I don't necessarily think that makes for a good movie. I think you have to accept that you're going into a different medium and you have to make compromises. There are things you can do in movies that you can't do in comics and things you can do in comics that you can't do in movies. But I do think that it's been very intelligently adapted and Zack's even hit on things that I wish we'd hit on in the original comic book.

What's an example?

I knew you were gonna ask that! Well the whole thing for me, visually speaking, has been quite surreal. When I first saw the movie, I'm sitting in a movie theater watching, for real, the movie that I saw in my head when I drew it. When you draw a comic book you kind of run a movie and freeze a frame, you know. But to actually go on the set and to see the characters, to be in the room with the characters -- to smell the cigar smoke -- was incredible. To be inside the Owl ship which, you know, had originated inside my head and it's now outside my head and I'm inside that is such a surreal and bizarre thing. I think the actual realization of all those things... I'm thinking particularly of the opening montage where Zack put elements in there that we hadn't addressed but, to me, just made the whole world come alive and showed in a really immediate and graphic way how the Watchmen world was different to our world. It was the absolute orientation of where we were. That I think was a masterstroke. I think also the fact that it was kept in 1985 was one of the things that's been most crucial in the successful adaptation, because it now has a kind of an historic distance; it has the feeling of a classic kind of fable or a parable rather than something that's trying to be very contemporary or up to date.

You once remarked that you thought the time had passed for Watchmen to become a film. What was it that made you change your mind -- was it Zack?

Well, I think I first spoke to Zack after the premiere of 300, the adaptation of Frank Miller's novel, and I was just bowled over by that, by how faithful it was -- not only to the way the graphic novel looked, but to the spirit of it and what Frank had in mind. And I just got a gut feeling from the beginning that Zack actually understood Watchmen. There was really nothing I saw after that to dissuade me from that point of view. I think the fact that he had just come off the back of a huge success like 300, which made a lot of money for the studio, meant that they were very willing to let him see his vision out. Certainly by the time I arrived on the set there were things that I wasn't happy with in the script that he'd managed to get reversed, and were much closer to what we wanted. In fact, to begin with the whole ending of Watchmen was completely different -- it was much more 'good guy kills bad guy, rides off into sunset with girl'---

Escapes giant squid...

[Laughs] Yeah. The first thing that Zack said to me when I got on the set was, "Dave, Adrian lives". I said "great", because once that happens all the ambiguity is retained, all the moral conundrum stays in place. So I was really pleased about that. I think also the fact that it now stands in relation to superhero movies, possibly as Watchmen the graphic novel stood in relation to comic; in that the general audience is now very familiar with the idea of superheroes, they understand all the conventions, you know -- the secret underground headquarters, the costumes, the crime fighting -- they don't have to have that explained to them, so it's very timely from that point of view. Of course it's also a bizarre coincidence that when the graphic novel came out it was kind of paired with Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, and now Watchmen the movie's kind of paired with, and compared to, The Dark Knight movie.

Next: Gibbons discusses the previous mooted versions -- including Terry Gilliam's -- and Alan Moore's stance on the film.

Comments

dj Mark

Mark Marquis

I finally got around to checking out Watchman on PPV this weekend. I picked up the graphic novel before the movie came out but decided to pass on the movie in theaters because I just wasn't that taken with the book. However, like the book, the movie had some brilliant ideas spread out amidst some less successful ones.

As with the novel, I liked most of Rorshach and Dr. Manhattan's scenes, but found everything else rambling and more than a little dated -- and not simply because it took place in 1985. I can understand why the moral ambiguity and depiction of super heroes was revolutionary for the time, but the sense of political urgency in the Russia/U.S. conflict felt forced.

I was turned off by the gore, the bad Nixon makeup, and that Hallelujah scene. I wish there had been more Ozymandias, but I still think the ending is brilliant (even without the squid).

Jul 27 - 06:35 PM

Bob S.

Bob Saccomano

@dj Mark:
You know, I think Matthew Goode's Ozymandias is one of the things that grates one me the most about the entire movie. I felt like he was totally miscast.

I do agree, though, that it's really hard to transplant the Soviet-US tensions to today - it just doesn't translate well. Snyder's gore also turned me off. It was excessive, didn't add to the story, and felt like it was there for the sake of satisfying the 300 holdover crowd. The Nixon makeup was absolutely horrible.

Jul 27 - 10:42 PM

manwithoutfear19

Daniel Raimondi

my thoughts exactly

Jul 27 - 07:04 PM

manwithoutfear19

Daniel Raimondi

Veidt/ozymandias is the best

Jul 27 - 07:06 PM

bigbrother

Bigbrother .

Wow, I could be completely off base here, but Gibbons seems very political. He doesn't seem capable of saying anything bad about anything in this interview. I understand most people in this situation would be that way, but it was very noticeable. Kinda makes you wonder how he and Alan Moore, who's very outspoken got along and worked so well together. Opposites attract I guess.

Jul 27 - 07:08 PM

Smartest Person Here

Greg Bonnette

Kudos to Dave Gibbons for respecting the difference between making a comic and making a movie. Watchman, in my mind, was about as faithful as an adaption that I could imagine, with it still being able to be accessible to those unfamiliar with the book. It was a great experience as a film and, I imagine, gets better with each viewing.

And, as for Alan Moore, and this is coming from a fan who grew up reading his books in the '80's, Moore has turned into a real, pompous ***. The man doesn't give credit to ANYONE who works on his books and characters. It's sad. So you got burned once, Alan, get over it. Enjoy the fact that your work is not available (in movies) to a much larger audience than your comics every could. Or you can stay as you are and keep being bitter, and bring down every adaptation of your work, that others care to get involved in.

Jul 27 - 07:09 PM

THECOWBELLHASSPOKEN

joseph rivera

only thing i didnt like was the bad old age make up, the missing awesome shot of all the dead bodies when the attack happens and TO A ENOURMOUSLY HUGER EXTENT malin akermans god awful performance.

other that CRAP i give it a 9 out of 10 and i thought the new ending was freakin genius as well.

Jul 27 - 07:11 PM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

Yeah Ackerman was kind of bland but she was good eye candy and kicked *** in a cool fashion, so she didn't bother me much. I still really like the original cut, but I think the director's cut is a lot better. It feels more fleshed out and takes its time, the comedian gets enough screen time, and it doesn't ever feel choppy. I think the third act still feels a little rushed and there wasn't enough Ozymandias, but that doesn't bother me while I watch it. It looks amazing on blu-ray and I cant wait to watch the side video commentary with Snyder. I don't know if I'll shell out for the ultimate cut, I liked the animated Black Frieghter they did, but I just dont feel like double dipping so soon unless its amazing. Original cut- 9/10, Director's Cut- 9.5/10.

Jul 27 - 07:20 PM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

Yeah Ackerman was kind of bland but she was good eye candy and kicked *** in a cool fashion, so she didn't bother me much. I still really like the original cut, but I think the director's cut is a lot better. It feels more fleshed out and takes its time, the comedian gets enough screen time, and it doesn't ever feel choppy. I think the third act still feels a little rushed and there wasn't enough Ozymandias, but that doesn't bother me while I watch it. It looks amazing on blu-ray and I cant wait to watch the side video commentary with Snyder. I don't know if I'll shell out for the ultimate cut, I liked the animated Black Frieghter they did, but I just dont feel like double dipping so soon unless its amazing. Original cut- 9/10, Director's Cut- 9.5/10.

Jul 27 - 07:20 PM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

Also I think some of you guys are being a little too hard on Alan Moore, he clearly has his reasons to be turned off by hollywood aka the travesty of LXG. Also while I actually think From Hell is alright, its not as good as the graphic novel. The only good adaptation, besides Watchmen, is V for Vendetta which wasn't very faithful even though its still a really good movie.

Jul 27 - 07:28 PM

bigbrother

Bigbrother .

I did find it ironic thought that V for Vendetta was the straw that broke the camels back as it were and as you say it's one of, IMO THE, best work made from one of his adaptations. I didn't think the dramatic license they took with it was bad especially considering the two times both works were made in. I thought at the time it was pretty gutsy for a movie to basically endorse terrorism in a way at the time it came out. I would have thought Moore would have respected that, but one thing is very clear about Moore, like him or not he dances to the beat of his own drummer, always has always will.

Jul 27 - 07:41 PM

Vas T.

Vas Tsompas

He wasn't turned off by V for Vendetta because he actually
didn't see it :-)
He was just pissed off with dealing with idiot Hollywood producers, especially Joel Silver (V for Vendetta) who was telling people that Alan Moore gave his endorsement for V when he hadn't done so.

Jul 27 - 10:02 PM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

Yeah I know and he also got pulled into this lawsuit thing, but I was just saying that if I was someone who wrote an awesome graphic novel like LXG and it got turned into a crap movie then I would be pissed. Its like Mike Mignola says, when a movie gets made based off a lesser known property then that will property will be known by most as just the movie.

Jul 27 - 11:31 PM

Nine Oh Two

joe schmoe

I just felt that, if you really wanted to do this movie justice, you needed to split it into 2 movies.

There was so much material to be covered here, it felt like they were rushing to get it all in, and a lot of the scenes didn't have the emotional punch they were meant to have because of this.

Kinda like when we learn about Silk Spectre's father. At first we are supposed to be confused as to why her mom didn't completely regret being raped by the comedian, but then when you learn he gave her a child(spectre), it kinda add depth to the comedian's character. This scene was totally lacking the impact it should have had.

Jul 27 - 08:10 PM

Nine Oh Two

joe schmoe

Just in case you've been living on mars w/ dr. manhattan

SPOILERS ABOVE^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Jul 27 - 08:19 PM

thedownstar

ryan brown

So I'm confused, did he like the movie or not? Great interview, I'm glad that Gibbons enjoyed the film. I'm sure that Snyder feels justified in his choices if either him or Alan Moore liked his vision.

DJ Mark, the U.S./Russian conflict was there to show how truly myopic our problems are as a species, it was not intended to be a focal point of the movie, neither was Rorschachs' quest to find the costume killer. The real story was whether or not society is worth saving, and if it is, if there is hope for it, is the best course of action via dionism, or utilitarianism (aka Ozymandias). The ambiguity of the book/movie was the driving force for both, which is why every costumed character in Watchmen generally held their enmity for being a hero...with the exception of Rorschach, he was more stoic than anything.

I don't think people are ready for a "Comic Book" movie that says something truly esoteric, other than one with Batman in it. Batman was the laymans philisophical equivelant to the hipsters' Watchmen. The same person can like both, but both films have different sets of followers. I doubt I'll be seeing Watchmen underwear sold at target any time soon.

Jul 27 - 09:06 PM

Vas T.

Vas Tsompas

He wasn't turned off by V for Vendetta because he actually
didn't see it :-)
He was just pissed off with dealing with idiot Hollywood producers, especially Joel Silver (V for Vendetta) who was telling people that Alan Moore gave his endorsement for V when he hadn't done so.

Jul 27 - 10:02 PM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

Yeah I know and he also got pulled into this lawsuit thing, but I was just saying that if I was someone who wrote an awesome graphic novel like LXG and it got turned into a crap movie then I would be pissed. Its like Mike Mignola says, when a movie gets made based off a lesser known property then that will property will be known by most as just the movie.

Jul 27 - 11:31 PM

adu

adnan ahmed

Does anyone know if The Black Freighter is in the director's cut Watchmen blu ray that just came out. Or are they saving it for the rip-off 5 disc version that comes out later?

Thanks.

Jul 27 - 10:36 PM

Bob S.

Bob Saccomano

@dj Mark:
You know, I think Matthew Goode's Ozymandias is one of the things that grates one me the most about the entire movie. I felt like he was totally miscast.

I do agree, though, that it's really hard to transplant the Soviet-US tensions to today - it just doesn't translate well. Snyder's gore also turned me off. It was excessive, didn't add to the story, and felt like it was there for the sake of satisfying the 300 holdover crowd. The Nixon makeup was absolutely horrible.

Jul 27 - 10:42 PM

jokerboy1991

jack giroux

Yeah I know and he also got pulled into this lawsuit thing, but I was just saying that if I was someone who wrote an awesome graphic novel like LXG and it got turned into a crap movie then I would be pissed. Its like Mike Mignola says, when a movie gets made based off a lesser known property then that will property will be known by most as just the movie.

Jul 27 - 11:31 PM

BlueLobster

Aaron Dean

Honestly, most of the things people complain about I had little problem with myself. Goode and Ackerman weren't amazing, but they played their part, and I think they did the best they could, which can make up for not being as good as some people might have wanted them to be. Plus, like Jokerboy said, Ackerman makes up for her occasional blandness with how hot she looks kicking *** in the Silk Spectre II costume.

I actually loved the 1980s setting the Soviet-US thing going on, just like I did with the graphic novel. Then again I suppose I'm a bit biased as I find the second half of the 20th century to be extremely engrossing from a historical standpoint.

The Owl Ship sex scene = MEANT to be dumb It was a statement on how ridiculous these people already are.

Gore: Watchmen was considered quite gory when it came out, but now it seems pretty tame. So I think they upped the ante with the film. Plus, there was a fair amount of gore in different parts of the graphic novel that weren't in the film that I think they were making up for.

Oh, and about Nixon, yeah, it was ridiculous, but again - it was meant to be that way. Nixon has been in office so long, with so much criticism and such, that I think maybe Snyder was essentially saying that by this point in his presidency, he would be a bad cartoonish pastiche of himself.

My main problem with the movie, was the narrative and how rushed the last part felt overall. Especially with Silk Spectre II and Dr. Manhattan. Also, the absence of more Comedian, Rorschach's Psychiatrist, the Bernies, the two detectives, and that lesbian couple. Though I'm sure some of these are restored in the Director's and Ultimate Cut.

Jul 28 - 12:06 AM

will s.

will stamp

the end of watchmen is absurd. it's an ignorant adolescent's idea of 'deep'.

"would you rather eat poop or vomit?"

not to mention immoral.

Jul 28 - 12:37 AM

will s.

will stamp

pretend for a moment that this ridiculous premise is possible. the entire book it's been explained that dr. manhattan can do whatever he wants, he has not limits. but then, when it suits the contrived storyline, this loophole about him being unable to stop all the nukes is thrown in there at the authors' convenience.

the reverence aimed at this schlock is wholly undeserved.

Jul 28 - 12:41 AM

BlueLobster

Aaron Dean

They never said Dr. Manhattan can do what ever he wants. The public believes it, but Osterman himself knows that he cant do whatever he wants, and most of those around him know this too. That was one of the themes of the book, people revering him as a god but him wholly disagreeing with this notion.

I don't want to argue, though. Watchmen is a beautiful piece of art in all its mediums, and if you think it's "an ignorant adolescent's idea of 'deep'." then please, show me the Twilight book where they deal with Moral Absolutism, Utilitarianism, Determinism, and other ideologies.

Jul 28 - 01:05 AM

jaycr

Jay Saenz

Great comment, i agree that Watchmen is a wonderful piece of art in all its forms, the graphic novel and the movie. Regarding Twilight, i couldn't agree more, its great to find out that the standard for a teenager today is to be an almighty supernatural being.

Aug 12 - 01:39 PM

Jason C Wilkerson

Jason Wilkerson

will s.: You really don't make any sense. If you paid attention you'd know that, as has been stated before, Dr. Manhattan cannot do whatever he wants. He is bound by the fact that he can see the future to a certain extent and follows what he sees in the future. That's the way he is through the entire book, so at no point is anything out of character. It's explained that he's powerful, but it's never said that he's all powerful.

You say the plot's contrived, but I don't see any other explanation besides this half baked opinion of something you obviously did not understand. And you're whole "the end of watchmen is absurd. it's an ignorant adolescent's idea of 'deep'... not to mention immoral" comment makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Speak coherently, and come back with a better explanation of how this is contrived schlock. After all, a lot of people more intelligent than you think it's a great piece of literature, that's why it's won very many prestigious awards, awards you'll never win for your writing obviously!

Jul 28 - 04:50 PM

BlueLobster

Aaron Dean

They never said Dr. Manhattan can do what ever he wants. The public believes it, but Osterman himself knows that he cant do whatever he wants, and most of those around him know this too. That was one of the themes of the book, people revering him as a god but him wholly disagreeing with this notion.

I don't want to argue, though. Watchmen is a beautiful piece of art in all its mediums, and if you think it's "an ignorant adolescent's idea of 'deep'." then please, show me the Twilight book where they deal with Moral Absolutism, Utilitarianism, Determinism, and other ideologies.

Jul 28 - 01:05 AM

jaycr

Jay Saenz

Great comment, i agree that Watchmen is a wonderful piece of art in all its forms, the graphic novel and the movie. Regarding Twilight, i couldn't agree more, its great to find out that the standard for a teenager today is to be an almighty supernatural being.

Aug 12 - 01:39 PM

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